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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff’s Josephine Faull (34) shoots through a foul Tuesday night during play against Estrella Foothills at Flagstaff High School.

Residents strive for a sense of normalcy after Railroad Springs shooting

Nicole Piccone and her 21-year-old daughter Alexandra Vaughan said they first saw the police lights through their blinds and heard the helicopter above their house. They knew there were police in the area, but had not gotten much information from news channels or law enforcement.

After seeing the lights, Vaughan got up out of her armchair to look through the window.

When the first gunshots echoed through Railroad Springs, Piccone said they had trouble processing what had happened. Nearly a second later, multiple shots peppered through the side of their home. The two women later counted 16 bullets that had rained into their homes.

The bullets were meant for Preston Oszust, 20, and Marcus Gishal, 20, who died from their wounds in the officer-involved shooting. The Arizona Department of Public Safety was the agency whose officers fired at the men, and said the two suspects who fled from a traffic violation shot at the officers first. One officer was shot in the hand.

The bullets that were aimed at the suspects pierced through the center of the armchair Vaughan had been sitting in moments before, pierced through the floorboards, a cabinet, the tree outside, an electric keyboard, dog food and soda cans, the wire of a vintage lamp and a bathtub. Miraculously, the bullets avoided the two women, their two cats, two bunnies, five pet rats, and the numerous flammable oxygen tanks that Piccone uses to help with her breathing.

Piccone said she felt blessed that she, her daughter and their animals were not hurt in the shooting.

“Whatever it is, I know luck and it’s beyond luck,” Piccone said.

Piccone has mobility issues with a spinal injury and made the decision to drop to the floor in the hope of avoiding a bullet. Judging by the bullet holes in her home, Piccone said a shot flew through her home inches from her head. The same bullet was inches from an oxygen tank.

The safety department has not responded to comments on their policy for how to keep incidents involving firearms out of residential neighborhoods. They also have not detailed what weapons were used in the incident and what had been done to prevent this altercation.

When the shots erupted, Piccone's neighbor, Molly Parafiniuk, who is pregnant with her second child, said she dropped to the floor. She screamed for her children, as her husband crawled to the other side of their home to check on their daughter.

After the shooting stopped, Parafiniuk said she eventually looked through the window and saw one of the suspects on the ground.

“I really regret looking out the window,” Parafiniuk said.

Parafiniuk, Piccone and her daughter all say they have had trouble sleeping in the days since. Whenever they hear a sudden noise outside, they get concerned. In addition, Parafiniuk said she has seen people slowly driving by their home looking at the scene.

She said that some people have even walked up to where the suspects were shot, and alleged one of them called it “fascinating.”

“I want things to go back to normal. I want to open my window and not have that flashback,” Parafiniuk said. “Just to be able to open my window and start my day, peaceful, looking at my beautiful Flagstaff ponderosa pines and the birds and the squirrels.”

Parafiniuk said she came from a family of officers and didn’t blame the police officers for their work. Piccone also was thankful for what the officers did, saying she and her daughter hoped to visit the injured officer and give him thank you cards.

“Both of us would like to meet him and say thank you, because this could have been so much worse,” Piccone said.

In total, four officers shot at the two suspects and three were left uninjured. One of the officers in the incident had worked for the department for five years, while the others worked for two years.

A department official explained that the officers have been placed on paid administrative leave following the incident. The department does not have a set time their officers are placed on leave following incidents involving firearms, said Kameron Lee, spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“I don’t know if and when these particular employees will return to duty,” Lee said.

Both the Flagstaff Police Department and Arizona Department of Public Safety investigative reports have not been released at this time.

Lofty projections cause $11 million shortfall at NAU

Unfulfilled lofty projections have caused an $11 million shortfall in the Northern Arizona University budget this year – funds departments across the university must return before June to avoid ending the fiscal year with a deficit.

Student tuition and fees, which comprise 40 percent of the university’s revenue, suffered this year due to a drop in both enrollment and retention.

NAU missed its target enrollment by at least 800 tuition-paying students, resulting in $10 million in lost tuition and fees that have already been allocated. First- to second-year retention also decreased by 2.5 percent, resulting in an initial net loss of just over $1 million, university representatives explained at a Faculty Senate meeting Monday.

Overall retention rates at the Flagstaff campus decreased this year, with losses across all university areas and student demographics – small differences that together have created an expensive problem.

A statement from Bjorn Flugstad, vice president for the university budget office, revealed that he and members of the executive team have been visiting departments “to determine what non-personnel monies could be spared, what plans and programs we can hold off on and what funds are not yet encumbered.”

NAU departments – academic and otherwise – each have their own defined amount to be returned before the end of the year.

The budget projection was made in spring 2018 based on anticipated revenues and expenditures and must now be upheld within all areas of the university, explained NAU spokesperson Kim Ott.

“Based upon projections reported to the Arizona Board of Regents in November, the university must operate within a lower level of resources available for this fiscal year. … This year, NAU will adjust to the reduced revenue, which amounts to approximately 1.5 percent of NAU’s overall $627 million budget,” she said.

Brian Levin-Stankevich, interim provost for Academic Affairs, said, “[The projection was] perhaps a little ambitious given the solution of the extended campus structure and recent hiring of Meredith Curley as dean in the middle of the cycle.”

The news of this costly miscalculation has spread since it was announced to department leads at the end of the fall 2018 semester, leaving many faculty members and employees fearful of losing their jobs. However, deans of various colleges have assured their teams that, though returning these funds is not optional, the goal is to maintain all current employees.

Karen Pugliesi, dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences (SBS), wrote in a college-wide email that $100,000 of their state budget and between $325,000 and $350,000 of their Central Instructional Funding (CIF) must be returned; however, “Neither of these budget reductions will affect employment status of regular, full-time personnel.”

Similarly, Valerio Ferme, dean of the College of Arts & Letters (CAL), said in a meeting last week that his primary goal to preserve current employees of all levels as the college works to return its $150,000 of state funds.

While faculty positions may be secure, in the worst-case scenario, part-time and student worker positions could become collateral damage.

Ferme explained that, in the case of CAL, if the $150,000 cannot be found within the state budget, collectors will dip into the college’s local budget, a grave prospect for employees.

“We have people that are on salary on our local budget. If we were not to find the money from the state budget and they came after our local money, we would have to consider not keeping those people,” he said.

Both Pugliesi and Ferme displayed confidence, though, that their colleges will be able to return the funds requested if they remain mindful about the budget restrictions.

At the senate meeting, faculty members expressed concern regarding consulting, hiring additional vice-administrators, rebranding, new mailers and other high-cost-generating activities; however, the executive council revealed no one culprit of the shortfall has been determined.

“There was no mulligan answer,” Gioia Woods, senate president, said of the council’s recent budget discussion with administrators, who stated NAU would move forward with a more conservative budget plan next year.

US intel chiefs list N. Korea, not border, as threat

WASHINGTON — Directly contradicting President Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that the Islamic State group remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The chiefs made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.

Their analysis stands in sharp contrast to Trump's almost singular focus on security gaps at the border as the biggest threat facing the United States.

Top security officials including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. They warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.

Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons and the capacity for building more — a notion that is the basis of the U.S. negotiating strategy.

"We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Coats told the committee.

Coats did note that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed support for ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and over the past year has not test-fired a nuclear-capable missile or conducted a nuclear test.

The "Worldwide Threat Assessment" report on which Coats based his testimony said U.S. intelligence continues to "observe activity inconsistent with" full nuclear disarmament by the North. "In addition, North Korea has for years underscored its commitment to nuclear arms, including through an order in 2018 to mass-produce weapons and an earlier law — and constitutional change — affirming the country's nuclear status," it said.

The report said Kim's support at his June 2018 Singapore summit with Trump for "complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" is a formulation linked to an end to American military deployments and exercises involving nuclear weapons.

Trump asserted after the Singapore summit that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat. However, Coats and other intelligence officials made clear they see it differently.

"The capabilities and threat that existed a year ago are still there," said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Plans for a follow-up Trump-Kim summit are in the works, but no agenda, venue or date has been announced.

More broadly, the intelligence report on which Coats and the heads of other intelligence agencies based their testimony predicted that security threats to the United States and its allies this year will expand and diversify, driven in part by China and Russia. It says Moscow and Beijing are more aligned than at any other point since the mid-1950s and their global influence is rising even as U.S. relations with traditional allies are in flux.

"Some U.S. allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perception of changing U.S. policies on security and trade," the report said, without providing examples or further explanation.

The report also said the Islamic State group "remains a terrorist and insurgent threat" inside Iraq, where the government faces "an increasingly disenchanted public."

The intelligence assessment, which is provided annually to Congress, made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, which Trump has asserted as the basis for his demand that Congress finance a border wall. The report predicted additional U.S.-bound migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with migrants preferring to travel in caravans in hopes of a safer journey.

In Syria, where Trump has ordered a full withdrawal of U.S. troops, the government of Bashar Assad is likely to consolidate control, with Russia and Iran attempting to further entrench themselves in Syria, the report said. Asked for her assessment, Haspel said of the IS group: "They're still dangerous."

State bill introduced to lower student wages

Two years after voters approved a bill to raise the statewide minimum wage, the fight continues over just how high the minimum wage should be in Arizona.

Travis Grantham, who represents Arizona’s District 12 in the State House of Representatives, has introduced a bill that would in effect lower the minimum wage for college students across the state.

Aimed at encouraging youth employment, House Bill 2523 would allow employers to pay the federal minimum wage to employees who are between the ages of 18 and 22, are working only part-time or on a “casual basis,” and are enrolled full-time in classes.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The bill was only introduced last week and is still very early on in the process, having not yet been assigned to a committee. But the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce has thrown their support behind the measure, saying it will encourage much needed job opportunities for college students and provide businesses with flexibility, according to Joe Galli, the chamber’s Senior Adviser for Public Policy.

“We think it’s great for students and young people,” Galli said, adding that the chamber has heard a lot of support for such a bill from some of their member businesses.

Galli said the local minimum wage laws have made it more difficult for students to find work and HB 2523 is a way to make young people more competitive when competing for jobs and an opportunity to get young people more involved in the local economy.

Chamber President & CEO Julie Pastrick agreed, calling the measure a boon for Flagstaff’s young people.

“It’s very exciting that our Arizona legislators recognize the labor market is often skewed towards higher-paid, more-experienced workers and as a result, job opportunities for young people are fading away from our small business family,” Pastrick said in a press release.

Galli said the chamber is supportive of efforts to get the bill passed this session and hopes Legislative District 6 Representative Bob Thorpe may co-sponsor the bill.

For his part, Thorpe said he is supportive of the legislation as a way to “help provide more employment opportunities for our full-time university and college students.”

“I have listened to interviews of NAU students describing how difficult it is to find employment within Flagstaff due to its raising minimum wages,” Thorpe said. “Our students need a means for both paying for their education and gaining practical real world experience from having employment opportunities.”

Thorpe said he has not spoken to many of his fellow legislators about the bill, but expects most of the Republican members to be in support.

He admitted, however, that the bill may run into issues with Arizona’s voter protection act. The act prevents the legislator or governor from changing laws passed by voters through the citizen initiative such as Prop 206, which voters passed in 2016 and raised the state's minimum wage.

And this may be a problem for the bill, according to Joe Bader with the group Flagstaff Needs a Raise, which successfully pushed for a higher minimum wage in Flagstaff in 2016 and was able to defend the law during the past election.

Bader said there were no carve-outs included in Prop 206’s language that legislatures could use as precedent, so it is likely the only way for the measure to pass is if it is put on the ballot in 2020.

“Voters rejected the arguments made by the chamber during the past two elections,” Bader said. “There’s no popular support for carve-outs.”

Otherwise, Bader called the prospect of lowering the minimum wage for students aged 18 to 22 who work part time ridiculous and said the federal minimum wage is intolerable.

Bader added that he is not surprised that both state legislatures and the local chamber are trying to limit the new state and local minimum wage laws.